Nobody knew, in the last years of the Nineteen Seventies, that Doctor Who only had about ten years left, and then it would be gone, seemingly forever. I certainly didn’t when I watched this at the time back in the day. But then, who could have known that this story was the beginning of the end. Up on the Sixth Floor, and over at ITV, minds immeasurably inferior to Hinchcliffe-Holmes, regarded the Doctor and his fans with hatred in their eyes and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us…
Okay, so I may be overdoing the whole Jeff Wayne bit but the fact remains that this was the point from which Doctor Who, after 14 continuous years of improvement in almost very area, would begin 12 long years of decline as the show withered itself away to irrelevance and eventual cancellation. But it’s a testament to those first 14 years that it took so long for the Beeb to put the show out of it’s misery. That said, Fang Rock is one of my favourite stories and one I was really looking forward to doing, and I liked the idea of tackling something a bit simpler after the rigours of the previous Edit, The Keys of Marinus.
Robert Phillip Hinchcliffe-Holmes was the chap in charge of Doctor Who before that Graham Williams fella took over. Of course, no such person exists but Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes were such a team that we may as well regard them as one person. They were, if you like, the Jago and Litefoot of Production Teams, though which is which I’m not so sure…
R.P.H-H. took over from Bazza Letraset and Terry Dicktionary and, under their guidance, the show grew up as the audience grew up with it. What Bazza and Terry had got a bollocking for in `71 would be nothing compared to what H-H would get up to just 3 years later. And we all know how well that ended…
Hinchcliffe-Holmes take the show into much more “grown-up” realms of storytelling than it had previously depicted, resulting in an extra 3 million viewers, prompting Mrs Gillyflower, I’m sorry Mrs Whitehouse, to complain to the Beeb that Hinchcliffe-Holmes was being irresponsible and, not only that, he was breaking the Beeb`s own Guidelines on what could be shown at half six on a Saturday.
The stage was set for The Deathly Affair of The Deadly Assassin.
It was Doctor Who’s very own Bunfight at the TV Corral, years before The Gunslinger. In the red corner, the BBC and, in the blue corner, Mrs Shitehouse and the BBC blinked first.
The next thing you know, Hinchcliffe-Holmes is out and Williams is in, with instructions to make Who less “Hammer Horror” and more “Sesame Street” with the result that Doctor Who increasingly becomes The Tom Baker Show.
Jemima Nathan-Saward then takes over and, as a counter-reaction against The Williams Era, goes the other way entirely and in the process manages to come up with possibly the only way of doing Doctor Who that could actually be worse. And she manages to do it for ten years. Whatever else we may think of her, you’ve got to admire her for that achievement if nothing else.
Some might say that it was actually Hinchcliffe-Holmes who was to blame for Doctor Who‘s decline and fall. If he hadn’t pushed so hard then the Counter-Revolution would never have taken place and things would have been very different. Not so. What should have happened is that the Beeb should have told Mrs Shitehouse that she might have a point, and that as an experiment they would put Doctor Who on later in the Saturday Night schedule but not interfere with what the Production Team was doing. The Hinchcliffe-Holmes approach was clearly one that was popular and the BBC is not in the business of making programmes nobody wants to watch.
That’s what should have happened. But it didn’t.
Of course, none of this could possibly have been foreseen by anyone when the Tardis pitched up at Fang Rock Island, just off Pebble Mill in Birmingham in 1977. Yes, the story is a left-over of the previous regime and so the show seems superficially the same as it was the last time we watched Talons. But, in the same way that The Mind of Evil is a relic of Season 7 in Season 8, there has been a subtle tonal shift in the meantime that will become more evident as the season progresses. And long before we hit The Invasion of Time, it’ll be clear that the game is up. With the Sixth Floor’s disastrous decision to capitulate to Whitehouse, the continuous narrative thread that has run all the way through the series so far from An Unearthly Child onwards, is put under intolerable strain and starts to fray right here.
What is that narrative thread? Well, in the first place it would be more accurate to call it a rope than a thread, in which case it’s three strands would be Character, Plot and Style. Now if you think about it, all three of those elements of the show have retained a certain consistency over the years, despite periodic variations in depiction such as title sequences, lead actor, incidental music, monochrome or colour etc etc
There’s a mysterious alchemy involved in making a TV Show which nobody in the industry, and I do mean nobody, understands. If they did they would make more good shows more consistently. The good ones, the classic ones – and here I include shows other than individual Doctor Who adventures – are the ones where all the individual elements come together perfectly, where they all complement each other, and support each other in a glorious synthesis, a symphony of televisual harmony where everything works together, where all the individual elements fit together just right.
Making a hit TV Show is like baking a cake – you need all the right ingredients in the right proportions, mixed together in the correct way and baked for the right amount of time, otherwise it doesn’t taste right, and in the cake stall of TV, your customers are going to buy something else with their eyeball time…
Horror Of Fang Rock is the second cake Williams baked, though the first that we got to taste. Thing is, it looks like some bugger’s nicked the recipe book and so he’s having to busk it. And that ain’t gonna end well but nobody knows that yet, so the job of this Fan Edit is to try and keep things on track and restore as much consistency to proceedings as we can, a job that will get harder and harder as Season 15 goes on…
We start with a lengthy pre-credits sequence, leading up to Ben getting done in by the Rutan, omitting the arrival of the Tardis and the scenes with the Doctor and Leela before they arrive at the lighthouse. Ben`s precious light only goes out the once before he gets killed and the Tardis finally arrives. I took the opportunity to fix the landing as the lamp doesn’t light up in time with the sound effect on the original.
The other thing I fixed was the Rutan POV shots – I`ve always wondered why Paddy Russell had the Rutan see in monochrome instead of green so for this version I`ve fixed that. The other fixes for Part One are two sequences that get cut right back for pace – Leela’s wandering about on the rocks and the ship running aground.
Once the toffs turn up in Part Two, things start to get really interesting. The Doctor and Leela make a shortened exploration of the rocks, meaning we cover the first two episodes in just over half an hour.
I was just about to start Part Three when I suddenly realised that, although the Rutan is green, it`s POV shots are framed in green, and it goes green when adopting Reuben`s form, that the ship it crashes in at the start is purple! So I adjusted the hue of the clip to turn it green instead. That one short scene took half an hour to do and utilised four layers in total. You`ll notice that the ship is still fringed in purple – that`s because it was impossible to turn the purple bit green in isolation – but I managed to turn the sea green when it hits!
After that, it was back to Part Three. The cuts made to this episode were all for one purpose – to hold off the reveal of “Reuben the Rutan” for as long as possible. In the TX version we know he`s the alien early on, which, to my mind, isn’t as dramatic as not being sure if he`s the alien or not…
Part Four`s cuts are mostly to the Doctor`s conversation with the Rutan, all designed to make it play a bit more seriously than in the TX version. And Leela doesn`t get to gloat. The last thing to do was to go back and adjust the colour balance on all the scenes set outside the lighthouse to make them a bit greener. Green is the Rutan`s colour of choice after all, so the adjustment helps made sense of the suggestion that the Rutan was responsible for the fog in the first place, as well as being more atmospheric.
At just under an hour and ten minutes, this is one of the longer edits of a four-parter that I`ve done and just goes to show how much story was in the original and how little padding. Good as the original is, I prefer this version and I hope you will too. And don’t you just wish that the complete studio recording existed for this so we could see Louise Jameson finally standing up to Tom? Now that would really be a DVD Easter Egg worth hunting for!